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Know Your Rights: CoVID-19 and the Workplace

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Know Your Rights: COVID-19 and the Workplace

Getting What You Pay For: College Reimbursements in the Wake of COVID-19

Should My College Refund Me Since Classes are Online and No One is Living on Campus?

College is expensive. Tuition and everything that comes with living away from home can add up. Room and board alone can cost a student tens of thousands of dollars.[1] And now, in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis, students may be getting shortchanged.

Many colleges and universities across the country have moved to online courses and have closed dorms in the last month. Students who previously lived in on-campus housing and relied on school meal plans are being forced to leave. As a result, students are not receiving the housing, meals, or other on-campus services for which they prepaid. This can cause great hardship for students who depended on school room and board.

Some colleges and universities are providing partial or prorated refunds.[2] Others have adjusted their refund policies in response to student demands.[3] Yet, others still may be refusing to provide refunds all together.  This is not only unfair, but it also may be illegal.

Students may be able to take legal action to seek a refund depending on the circumstances. In fact, students recently have started to file lawsuits for breach of contract and other claims related to their payments for room and board.

If you are wondering whether you may have a legal claim to a refund or would like more information, please contact us at intake@nka.com or by phone at 877.448.0492. We remain dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of students and other consumers.


[1] See Katie Lobosco, “You’ll probably pay at least $57,000 to send your kid to college,” CNN Money, (May 1, 2017).

[2] See Emma Whitford, “Coronavirus Closures Pose Refund Quandary,” Inside Higher Ed (March 13, 2020

[3] See Emma Kerr, “COVID-19 Closed Dorms. Will Students Get a Refund?” U.S. News & World Report (April 8, 2020).

Can My Employer Take My Covid-19 Stimulus Payment?

As hardworking Americans await their stimulus payments, corporations are already devising ways to take their workers’ money.

On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus package meant to help ease the economic blow caused by COVID-19. Under the law, qualifying individuals will receive up to $1,200 ($2,400 for married couples), with an additional $500 for each child under 16.  Individuals qualify according to their adjusted gross income (AGI) from their 2019 federal tax filing, or their 2018 filing if they have not yet filed.  Individuals with AGIs under $75,000 (or $150,000 for joint filers) will receive the full amount.  Payment amounts gradually decrease for higher AGIs with individuals making over $99,000 (or $198,000 for joint filers), phased out of the program.[1] The IRS is expected to begin sending out payments in late April.[2]

While the checks are not yet in the mail, some employers are already thinking of ways to use them to reduce their payroll obligations.  For example, one local news reports that an unidentified company in Texas may be requiring workers to sign agreements that authorize the employer to deduct from wages an amount equal to the workers’ stimulus checks, [3] essentially taking the government payment out of the hands of the individuals and putting it into the hands of the company. 

No doubt more companies across the country are thinking of creative ways to take advantage of their workers’ aide.  These schemes may run afoul of state or federal laws.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for example, establishes standards for minimum wages and overtime pay. The FLSA requires employers of covered employees who are not otherwise exempt to pay these employees a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 an hour and to pay 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.[4] The FLSA permits wage deductions for work-related expenditures, but not if those deductions cause payments to fall below the minimum wage.  If an employer deducts stimulus amounts from an employee’s wages, it may be violating federal law. 

Many states also have their own minimum wage and overtime requirements that typically afford greater protections to workers than federal law and in greater amounts.  Some also have other law, generally referred to as wage payment statutes, that entitle workers to payment of earned wages above and beyond the minimum wage rate.  For example, under Minnesota Law, an employee who has an agreement to receive $20.00 per hour is entitled to timely receive those wages.[5] A deduction for stimulation amount that zeros out or substantially reduces a paycheck may also violate these laws.

Some states, including Minnesota and California, also have laws that specifically prohibit unauthorized deductions from paychecks.

The Minnesota Payment of Wages Act substantially limits the kinds of payroll deductions to which employees may consent.[6] Employers cannot deduct paychecks for things like lost or stolen property, property damage, or to recover any claimed indebtedness.  Paycheck deductions may be made for things like paying union dues, insurance payments, and certain savings plans.   

Similarly in California, an employer may only withhold amounts from an employee’s wages only when required or empowered to do so by state or federal law.  Deductions under these narrow circumstances may be made for things like insurance premiums and benefit plan contributions, but first employers must obtain employees’ written authorization or must be made pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.[7] These laws would also likely be implicated in an employer’s scheme designed to pay workers less wages in congruence with their stimulus relief.  Workers should learn their rights in case their employer is scheming to take their stimulus payment.  The rules may vary depending on your state, employer size, and your job duties.

If you have believe your employer is planning to deny you of these rights or otherwise taken wrongful actions towards you related to your stimulus payment, please contact us at intake@nka.com or  by phone at 877.448.0492. We remain dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of employees and consumers.


[1] Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) Pub. L. No. 116-136 (H.R. 748).

[2] Shane Croucher, “When are Stimulus Checks Coming from the IRS? Deposit Date and Details Explained” Newsweek (Apr. 6, 2020).

[3] Jody Barr, “Austin Company Looking to Dock Paychecks for those Receiving Stimulus Checks,” KXAN (posted Mar. 27, 2020, updated Mar. 30, 2020). 

[4] For more information on minimum wage and overtime requirements, see Nichol’s Kaster’s practice pages on Wage and Hour Violations.

[5] See Minn. Stat. § 181.101, et seq.

[6] See § 181.79, eq seq.

[7] See Cal. Labor Law § 221, et seq.

DOL Wage and Hour Division to Suspend Enforcement Actions Related to COVID-19

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division has stated it will not bring enforcement actions against any public or private employer for violations of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) until April 17, 2020, provided the violating employer is not willfully violating the rule, but rather acts “reasonably” and “in good faith.” The employer, however, must remedy any violations as soon as practicable. The employer must provide the DOL a written commitment to comply with the law in the future.

However, if the employer violates the FFCRA willfully, fails to provide a written commitment to future compliance with the FFCRA, or fails to remedy the violation upon notification from the DOL, the DOL may still exercise its enforcement authority.

After April 17, 2020, the DOL’s limited stay of enforcement will be lifted, and it will then enforce violations of the FFCRA, as appropriate.

If you have believe your employer has denied you these rights or otherwise taken wrongful actions towards you related to COVID-19, please contact us at intake@nka.com or by phone at 877.448.0492. We remain dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of employees and consumers.

 

Part-Time Employment under Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical

Part-time employees can benefit from the sick leave and expanded family and medical leave that has been enacted in response to COVID-19. Generally, paid sick time is to be calculated based on the employee’s “required compensation” and the number of hours the employee would normally be scheduled to work.

A part-time employee is entitled to leave from work for their average number of work hours in a two-week period. In order to count hours worked, part-time employees should calculate hours based on the number of hours they are normally scheduled to work. If the employee doesn’t know or otherwise doesn’t have normal hours scheduled, you may use a six-month average to calculate the average daily hours. In this case, a part-time employee may take paid sick leave for this number of hours per day for up to a two-week period. The part-time employee may take expanded family and medical leave for the same number of hours per day up to ten weeks after that.

If, however, a part-time employee has not been employed for at least six months, the part-time employee can use the number of hours that the employer and employee agreed to upon hiring. But, if there is no such agreement, the appropriate number of hours of leave can be calculated based on the average hours per day the employee was scheduled to work over the entire term of their employment.

If you believe your employer has denied you these rights or otherwise taken wrongful actions towards you related to COVID-19, please contact us at intake@nka.com or by phone at 877.448.0492. We remain dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of employees and consumers.

The DOL’s Carveout for Small-Businesses Could Effect COVID-19 Expanded Leave for Employees

Under the Department of Labor’s (DOL) updated guidance, small-business employers with fewer than 50 employees may claim an exemption from the emergency paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This carveout specifically applies to leave taken for reasons of child care and school closures related to COVID-19.

These small businesses are exempt from two FFCRA provisions:

  • First, small businesses do not need to provide paid sick leave due to school closure, place of care closure, or child care provider unavailability for COVID-19 related reasons.
  • Second, they do not need to provide expanded emergency paid leave under the FMLA, when doing so would jeopardize the viability of the business.

If you have believe your employer has denied you these rights or otherwise taken wrongful actions towards you related to COVID-19, please contact us at intake@nka.com or by phone at 877.448.0492. We remain dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of employees and consumers.

Despite the wide implications of COVID-19, we at Nichols Kaster continue to work diligently in our commitment to protecting employee and civil rights.

In addition to being a public health crisis, COVID-19 is raising a multitude of employment challenges. Specifically, employees may face issues involving safety at work, sick time, discrimination, protected whistleblower activity, medical or other leaves, reduced hours, or unemployment. Moreover, as a result of spread and preventative measures related to COVID-19, more and more employees have been instructed by their employers to work from home. Please keep in mind that there are a number of federal and state laws that continue to provide employees with protection – this remains true whether you are working from home or at your employer’s office.

If you have believe your employer has taken wrongful actions towards you related to COVID-19, or have questions about your rights, please contact us at intake@nka.com or by phone at 877.448.0492. We remain dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of employees and consumers.

For more information about the changing legal landscape as it relates to COVID-19’s effect on employee and consumer rights, check out our news and articles.